Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: What I Remember

I have consciously tried not to remember too much about what happened on September 11, 2001.But on the anniversary of this tragic moment in our history I allow myself to remember my emotions and the horrible details of that day and its aftermath.

It was nearly nine o’clock in the morning and I was sitting in the living room of my fifth floor apartment in upper Georgetown, Washington, D.C.. I was watching “The Today Show” with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric.

All of a sudden, the show cuts to a shot of one of the World Trade Center towers billowing in smoke. The two anchors at this point, are guessing at what we all are seeing live on television. They believe it’s a small airplane that accidently hit the tower. (It was American Airline flight 11, after crashing into the North Tower with 92 on board at 8:46a.m)  As the anchors continue to make sense of it on live TV, the whole world sees another passenger plane coming in from the left side of the TV screen. It flies directly into the South Tower. (It was United Airlines Flight 175 with 65 people on board. It was 9:03a.m.)

I remember sitting in front of my TV, transfixed and trying to understand what I was seeing. The towers burned and people screamed. I was listening to the eyewitness accounts as the events became more horrifying. Then, reports started coming in of an explosion at the Pentagon.  (It was American Airline Flight 77, with 92 people on board, impacting at 9:37a.m.)

 My fifth floor apartment then, was less than seven miles from the Pentagon. Moments before these TV reports, my cat had been pacing and meowing and scratching at my balcony door. I know now, he must have felt the vibration of the explosion.

The news channels were saying the White House and the U.S. Capitol building had been evacuated amid rumors of more attacks. A fourth plane had been hijacked and no one knew where it was. There was fear it was headed to Washington. The streets in D.C. were grid-locked as an exodus from the city was in full force.  

By this time, my husband and his partners had left their office a block away and were in our apartment. We watched in disbelief as the cameras captured live, the complete collapse of the South Tower at 9:59a.m.  It came down in an avalanche of ash and smoke through the streets of New York and sending everyone running. The North Tower would collapse next, at 10:28a.m..

 I was not scheduled to work that day. My husband at the time, asked me not to go into the newsroom, where I worked as a reporter. It was located at 400 North Capitol St, directly one block away from Capitol Hill and a few blocks away from the White House. I was torn over what I should do. This time, I chose to not take part in reporting the event. The streets were grid-locked with cars and pedestrians after all federal buildings were evacuated and shut down.

From what I had been witnessing on TV, our country had turned into a war zone. Everything was in lockdown. All I could think of was, “I am not a war correspondent." Instead, my husband and I,  headed out of D.C. to Virginia, and away from the danger.

On the road, cars were blocking intersections and ignoring road rules. It seemed like a free-for-all in an attempt to escape the potential danger. I felt like I was in a very bad disaster movie.

The missing plane was later identified as United Airlines Flight 93. It was carrying 38 passengers and went down at 10:03a.m. in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers tried to regain control of the cockpit.

Once in Virginia, we stayed glued to the TV in our friend's townhouse, watching in horror as the details and images got worse and worse. I watched one of my coworkers report live later that evening. I couldn’t help notice the grim look on her face. I’d find out years later, that she had seen the plane fly over the road she was on and go into the Pentagon as she was driving into work that morning.  
Later that evening on 9/11, we headed back to the city, entering through Key Bridge in Rosslyn, Va. As we approached the bridge, there were police barricades. We had to show our I.D.s as proof of residence in D.C.  before we were allowed to enter the city. We all knew by then, that we had been attacked by Al Qaeda and the search for the terrorists was in full swing.

The following days, weeks, and months I did return to the newsroom and reported about the aftermath of the attacks. I witnessed up close, the large and literally black, gaping, hole left on the side of the pentagon. I interviewed surviving family members and went from White House to Capitol Hill to the Pentagon getting the government’s reaction on the events.

I saw countless hours of horrific video images that looked like footage from a disaster movie. Except it was real. Images of thousands of people running away from a black cloud of smoke, ashes and debris, that was chasing and engulfing them through New York city streets.

In my news coverage, I sifted through countless hours of recorded video images of the human loss and tragedy left behind by these attacks. People posting pictures of lost loved ones on improvised New York street message boards because the intense heat of the attack on the Towers left little trace of the many trapped in the inferno of those sky scrapers.

I heard 911 calls from flight attendants and passengers on board those ill-fated U.S. commercial flights that were taken over by terrorists and used as deadly weapons against the unsuspecting travelers on board and and the thousands inside the Towers and the U.S. Pentagon.

One of deepest personal emotional scars I have from 9/11 comes from a news conference held weeks later by the actual surviving victims of the Pentagon attack. These brave souls, in their bandaged faces and burned bodies, clearly still in much pain, wanted to let the world know they had survived and were moving forward.

I stood by my cameraman,  trying very hard to choke back the tears as they struggled with their movement and their speech in recounting their horrible experience. They wanted to let the world know that they were survivors and would  keep on living. When it came time to approach them for an individual interview, it took all of my will power not to cry in front of them. I wanted to stop being a reporter and just wrap my arms gently around their badly burned and bandaged bodies.  

It took me a long time to absorb the details and timelines of those tragic events. Everything before that had been absorbed in chunks and pieces as needed for my job. Today, the memories are still as jolting and the my disbelief remains the same.


Albert Cruz said...

very sad time for American and will not be forgotten!!! lessons learn from CIA, FBI to communicated to each other and to inform the President!! I was in NY on May 2001 visiting. I tour the observation deck of 2 World Trade Center (the South Tower). Knowing that I was there 4 months prior to the attack, it always gives me the feeling of the goose bumps of fear. The anniversay always brings me tears and heart break. GOD BLESS ALL OF US AND AMERICA!

Ray Duron said...

9/11 as seen from overseas: As I was preparing my operations briefing for the following crew change we received notification messages of a “possible attack” of the WTC. Our intelligence personnel immediately switch to Fox New and other stations to find the North Tower in smoke and flames. Our intelligence networks were receiving traffic at high rate as reports were coming in. We began receiving readiness orders to posture up for further direction. Within 30 minutes all roads to our satellite ground station were closed and local orders were relayed by the host base to inform our families to stay at home or to get home. I lived off base, and it was unsettling to know that I could not be there to comfort or protect my family as the WTC events began to unfold. All of us overseas are ready and postured for attacks, so to see what was happening at home was made us all wonder if this is the way WWIII was going to begin for us with the attacks back home.

When the second tower was hit it was obvious that this was an attack on the US, since time and time again attempts were made on the most famous landmark in the world. Shortly after when the Pentagon was hit we were know in a battle rhythm to prepare our assigned satellite systems, intelligence assets and other systems for our wartime mission. The jets at the main base scrambled and the security posture at the all four bases was battle ready. Our ground station was shut down (no one in/no one out) and weapons ready with security on high alert as our station was now one of the vital mission links to the forces on the move. I was able to contact my wife by then and instructed her to close all the blinds to make it look like no one was home in the event of any domestic activity where Americans may be targeted outside of the base.

In the days that followed we maintained our alert status until I left to come back to the states in August of 2002. To me 9/11 will always be the day that changed our lives at home and abroad as American’s were now targets of a new kind of warfare. The enemy was undefined and the global war on terror was the new world order. In September 2002, I arrived at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station better known as NORAD and I was assigned United States Strategic Command forces in the Joint Space Operations Center and later in the Global Missile Warning Center. I was scheduled to retire after 20 years in October 2002, instead I ended up retiring in 2008, so I could deploy and do my part to deter any future attacks to our homeland. I’ve lost friends in combat and seen others who have changed forever because of combat. I thank God for watching over me and bringing me home safe to my family and friends. Now that I’ve retired after 28 years, I still serve our great nation as part United States Strategic Command and continue to do my part for our country in the mission areas of Strategic Deterrence, Space Operations and Cyber Operations. Let us never forget 9/11 and the impacts it had on our lives and let us give thanks to God for what have and cherish…our families.


Ray “Razor” Duron

Edie said...

Ray, thank you for sharing your memories of this horrific day. And thank you for serving our country.